Tuesday 3 March 2015

#CBR7 Book 27: "An Abundance of Katherines" by John Green

Page count: 227 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Colin Singleton is a child prodigy, convinced that as he ages, he becomes less remarkable with each passing day. While able to converse in eleven different languages and capable of memorising the majority of everything he reads (for hours every day), he's not really able to adapt the reading into anything new - like a true genius would be able to. He desperately wants to make some sort of significant contribution to the world, even more so after he's crushed when dumped by his girlfriend on the day of their high school graduation.

Not that he should be unused to being dumped. While Colin is fairly actively unpopular in school, he has nonetheless dated (however briefly) and been dumped by eighteen different girls called Katherine. Katherine 19, his most recent girlfriend, is in fact also Katherine 1, who asked him to be her boyfriend when they were children, and then promptly broke up with him not long after. Since they'd been going out for nearly a year by the time she dumped him again as a teenager (by far his longest relationship), I don't think Colin should complain. He's devastated, causing his only friend, Hassan, to decide they need to go on a summer road trip to make Colin happy again. The fact that Hassan is willing to take time out of his busy life slacking off, watching Judge Judy, is clearly a great sacrifice on his part.

The boys end up in the little town of Gutshot, Tennessee, where apparently the Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is buried (his body having been bought and brought over in the 1930s). They meet Lindsey Lee Wells (as well has her boyfriend, the Other Colin and his friends) and are hired by her mother, who owns and runs the local factory (where they make tampon strings!) to compile an oral history of Gutshot. She'll pay them 500 dollars a week as well as room and board. Colin is determined that his great contribution to the world will be The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which will successfully predict the future and outcome of any romantic relationship, a mathematical formula worked out based on his history with Katherines 1 through 19. He's also convinced that if he can just get the theorem to work, he'll be able to persuade Katherine 19 to take him back. Colin may have an IQ of over 200, but he's really not very good at figuring out human nature.

Having decided that I needed to read ALL the John Green YA novels after completing Will Grayson, Will Grayson, I decided to start with the one that had the lowest Goodreads rating. I kept waiting for this book to stop exasperating me and entertain me in the way the other John Green books I'd read did. In the end, there was more I liked than disliked, but I'm glad this is a book I borrowed from the library rather than own myself.

What I liked:
- Hassan (except for that unfortunate brief while when he decided he wanted to refer to himself as Daddy constantly). Colin's best (and only) friend. A chubby Muslim who occasionally attempts to convert Colin to Islam, Hassan appears to have no major life goals, except slack off and watch Judge Judy all day. He has made it his mission to notify Colin every time he gets carried away with spouting trivia, so that his friend can at least attempt to fit in with his teenage peers. He's also quite unamused with Colin's hang-up on Katherines and wants to help his buddy move on, perhaps meet and like a girl NOT named Katherine.

- Lindsey Lee Wells. Lindsey was fun, and her bad taste in boyfriends withstanding (spoiler - the Other Colin, the most popular guy in school isn't all that nice). She, like the majority of the inhabitants in Gutshot, seems to have no real desire to ever leave the town, despite her mother's dreams for her to go off to college. She's incredibly well-liked by pretty much everyone in town, but has many of the self-esteem issues that seem to plague so many teenage girls.

One of the criticisms I've read of John Green is that he always writes Manic Pixie Dream Girls in his books. Based on the books I've read so far, that seems deeply unfair. Neither Jane in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, nor Lindsey in this seemed very MPDG. I think the only character I can think that applies, to a certain extent, is Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, who can be said to have quite a bit of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy about him. But I digress, back to my list:

- The footnotes. Yup, this book has a number of footnotes. Sometimes they are there to give a translation of the Arabic, French or German occasionally spoken by the characters, but most of the time, they seem to just be there to interject things cleverly into the story.

What I didn't like:
- The constant flash backs to Colin's dating history, such as it was. First of all, I don't consider spending less than an hour with a girl who then decides that she doesn't care about you dating or being dumped, but Colin clearly does. He wallows far too much in the memories of the many Katherines, especially Katherine 19, who seems to have broken his heart. I get that he needs to find "the missing piece of himself", but the umpteenth time it's mentioned, I lose interest

- The constant reminders that Hassan is in fact overweight and that Colin has a Jew-fro. I don't think Colin's hair is EVER referred to as just hair - it's always his Jew-fro. I just ran a search for the term and was surprised when it only seems to occur eight times in the whole book. It feels like a LOT more!

Most of the book was perfectly inoffensive, but it also didn't grab my interest all that much. If I hadn't been determined that I was going to finish it by the end of February, it would have taken me a lot longer to read than two days, despite the fact that it's not all that long. It had some cute bits, but the supporting cast and some of the nerdy trivia I learned over the course of reading it was better than the general story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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